TV Preview

TV Preview: Bravo's 'Fashion Show' Is an Appealing Knock-Off of 'Project Runway'

Co-hosts Kelly Rowland and Isaac Mizrahi and judge Fern Mallis are front and center with the contestants, who are vying for fashion fame.
Co-hosts Kelly Rowland and Isaac Mizrahi and judge Fern Mallis are front and center with the contestants, who are vying for fashion fame. (By Mitchell Haaseth -- Bravo)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

"The Fashion Show," premiering tonight on Bravo, is different from "Project Runway."

Like, the runway on which aspiring designers showcase their fashions is triangle-shaped, not linear. Weekly losers are dismissed with "Bye bye, darling," not "Auf wiedersehen." The egomaniacal genius contestant is named Merlin, not Christian.

Pointing out these vast differences is important. Otherwise, it might be possible to confuse "Fashion Show," in which 15 contestants stitch and scissor their way to a $125,000 prize, with "Runway," in which 16 contestants stitch and scissor their way to a big cash prize -- especially since the former is meant to fill the gap left when "Runway" last year announced its move to Lifetime.

So, differences:

Benevolent Isaac Mizrahi and svelte Kelly Rowland fill the co-host roles in "Fashion," as opposed to benevolent Tim Gunn and svelte Heidi Klum in "Runway." (Fern Mallis of IMG Fashion is the third judge.)

The weekly fashion shows are held not just for a panel of judges, but for an audience full of "fashion experts." At the end of the series, the television-viewing audience at home will get to help vote for the winner.

Design challenges, at least in the premiere episode, are tamer than "Runway's" often absurd tasks.

Tame can still make for very watchable television.

In the first episode, contestants are split into three teams, asked to create one "must-have item" and then design an entire wardrobe featuring it. After teams create the essential item, the clothing piece becomes the group name, leaving one group unfortunately labeled "Team Harem Pant" for the rest of the show.

It's pretty good stuff, especially when you factor in some of the contestants' personalities. Like Merlin, who in one scene is dressed like the love child of Robin Hood and a Mountie (red cape, feathered cap) and in another like a garish Virgin Mary. Or esoteric James-Paul, who says his design aesthetic "derives from post-colonial theories" and also from "squares and rectangles." Or Reco, the hardscrabble sewing whiz who put himself through school designing costumes for strippers.

Reco, a member of Team Harem Pant, gets chastised when he accidentally refers to his team's haute design as "Hammer Pants."

"But couture and refined," a prissy teammate corrects him.


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